As someone who makes a living spending all day on LinkedIn, I recently came to a shocking and somewhat pleasant realization - I almost never notice advertising on the world's largest social media platform for professionals.
That's by design, apparently.
"My theory is that advertising only works when it's content," LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman says in this video interview. "[On LinkedIn], we actually try to have it [advertising] all be part of the content ecosystem. It's naturally relevant to you as a professional. It's actually part of the experience that you want."
The plan seems to be working.
LinkedIn's ad revenue grew by 29% to $154.1 million in the first quarter of 2016, thanks to nearly 80% revenue growth from sponsored content alone.
For those of us who want to sell products and services on the network, there's are some key lessons to be learned in how LinkedIn utilizes sponsored content on the platform.
Best of all, you don't have to spend a penny to apply this model to your own LinkedIn "advertising" efforts.
Lesson 1 - Reverse-Engineer Your Products and Services
This is perhaps the single most important method you can use to attract new clients and customers on LinkedIn.
In today's online world, content is currency. The more valuable your content, the more money you'll make.
It no longer works to take a traditional advertising approach when it comes to explaining what types of products or services you offer.
Instead, you must "reverse-engineer" your products and services into a helpful piece of content that simultaneously demonstrates your expertise, helps your audience achieve one of its goals and gets them excited to hear more from you on similar topics moving forward.
For example, let's say you're a video marketing company looking to land more Small Business Owners as clients.
Your key selling points might be that you help Small Business Owners increase their Search Engine Optimization (Google owns YouTube, meaning marketing videos now show up via organic searches) along with showcasing their business for new customers who have never set foot inside the business or met its employees.
You could "reverse-engineer" those key selling points and services into a LinkedIn blog post with a headline of, "3 Ways Online Video Helps Small Business Owners Get Found, Win New Business and Increase Sales."
In the actual post, you can walk through the value of online video for a Small Business Owner - the SEO juice via YouTube/Google, the ability to create a "Know, Like and Trust" bond with prospects and the power of seeing customers praising your company via video testimonials.
See how it works? You get your prospect (a Small Business Owner) excited about how online video marketing can help him or her achieve his or her goals. You position yourself as an authority, provide valuable tips/insights and (of course) are now someone he or she can directly connect with to learn more about how the whole process works.
Lesson 2 - Integrate vs. Interrupt
Quick question: Do you like it when your favorite TV show, sporting event or music program is interrupted by a barrage of seemingly unrelated advertisements?
Of course not!
So don't do it to your audience on LinkedIn.
Instead of blasting out your content to random people within your network, take the time to sort, organize and segment your existing connections into separate audiences using LinkedIn tags.
Next, use an automation tool like LinMailPro to deliver targeted content (via 1-on-1 LinkedIn Messages) to those specific contacts that you know they'd be interested in.
Lesson 3 - Make The Call (to Action)
It seems simple, but far too many of us forget to put in a clear Call To Action at the end of our LinkedIn posts or other content.
After all, if someone consumes your free content, you've earned the right to ask him or her to take another step further into your sales funnel.
It might mean inviting him or her to a free webinar, or to download a free eBook that dives deeper into the topic of your original blog post. It might be offering a free consultation, meeting or something similar. It all depends on your business model and how you best move customers through your sales process.
Either way, the important part is to tell people what to do next!
Don't just assume they'll be so overjoyed and enthralled with your brilliant content that they'll immediately take the time to look up your phone number, business website or email address so they can talk further.
Give them all that information in one place, right at the bottom of your post. Make it easy and obvious what the next, best step is for someone who likes the content you just shared.
Reid Hoffman Has it Right
From the beginning, LinkedIn's Co-Founder has made it clear that advertising works best when it comes in the form of content that compliments or even enhances the organic experiences a user is having on the platform.
Remember that lesson as you look to LinkedIn to meet your own sales and marketing needs. It will serve you well!